“This case presents several points of interest,” Murdock said, in a distinctly English accent. Face and Hannibal turned to look at him. He was reading the background details Face had gathered, using a large magnifying glass.
“Are you having a problem with your eyes, Murdock?” Hannibal asked. They were nearing Lucasville now, after a long drive during which Murdock had been unusually quiet.
“No, merely observing.” Murdock said, “I see you changed pens part way through this report, Face, the ink is slightly darker and denser towards the end of the page.”
“Er, yeah, the pen ran out,” Face said. Murdock nodded sagely. Hannibal looked at the two paperback books Murdock had read so far on the trip and discarded on the floor of the van. One was The Sign of Four, the other The Hound of the Baskervilles. Hannibal grinned.
“There was a series of Sherlock Holmes movies on the Late Late Show this past week, wasn’t there?” Hannibal said.
“Oh no.” Face said. “And I’ll bet I can guess who stayed up late late to watch them.”
Murdock took a pipe out of his pocket. “An excellent deduction, my dear Faceman,” he said.
“You ain’t smoking no pipe in my van.” BA protested. “Cigars is bad enough,” he added, glaring at Hannibal.
“Oh this is great,” Face complained. “I’ve dreaded this one for years. You know he has all the books, don’t you? It was only a matter of time.”
“I dunno, Face,” Hannibal said. “Seems like it might be fun.” Murdock was currently closely examining Face’s watch with his magnifying glass.
“Well, I’m not playing Dr Watson to his Holmes. You got that, Murdock?”
Murdock smiled reassuringly at him. “I think of you more as ‘the noble bachelor’, Face.”
“Stroke of luck really,” Hannibal said. “To have Sherlock Holmes on our side. Those Heinemann brothers really don’t stand a chance against the combined efforts of the A-Team and the Great Detective.”
“Hannibal don’t do it,” Face moaned.
“Great detective?” BA snorted. “Great defective more like.” Murdock rummaged in his suitcase and took out a copy of A Study in Scarlet. He settled down to read, the empty pipe in his mouth.
They approached Lucasville via a back road that took them straight towards Mike’s hotel, which stood part way up a hill, overlooking the town. A winding road led down through woodland into the town, which was nestled in a valley. On the slopes of the hills around the town there were a few isolated houses of various sizes. One large one stood almost directly opposite the hotel on the other side of the valley.
“Nice looking town.” Hannibal said.
“Looks kind of quiet,” Face said, dubiously.
“Lots of good fishing and hunting in the area and handy for Yosemite National Park.” Hannibal said. “Good location for a family hotel.” Face didn’t look convinced.
“No golf course,” he muttered.
They drove through the gates and up to the hotel, which was a three storey, grey stone building laid out in an L-shape. The signs of building and decorating work going on were evident from the neatly stacked piles of materials outside.
BA honked the horn as they got out and started unpacking their gear. In a moment Mike appeared, dressed in a check shirt and jeans. He looked a little dusty, had clearly been working somewhere inside.
“Hi, Mike,” Hannibal said. “Nice hotel.”
“Be better when it’s finished. If it ever is.” Mike said. “Come on inside, let me get you some food.”
“Hello, Mr Harper.” Murdock said, “I am Mr Sherlock Holmes, currently assisting the A-Team on this case. Pleased to meet you.” He shook Mike’s hand.
“Sherlock Holmes?” Mike looked at Murdock with understandable confusion.
“Quit messing around, fool.” BA said. “He’s Murdock. He’s crazy. Don’t ask me why we keep bringin’ him along.” He went on into the hotel carrying their bags and muttering to himself. Murdock grinned at the now very puzzled client.
“Yeah, I’m Murdock. Some of the time anyway.” He followed BA into the building. Mike looked at Hannibal.
“It’s okay, Murdock is part of the team. Don’t worry about some of the stuff he says, he just has, ah, a very active fantasy life. But he’s fine.”
“Right.” Mike said, still sounding dubious. Hannibal and Face went into the hotel with him. They left their luggage in the lobby and went on through the building. They turned the corner of the L away from the bedrooms and into a large function room. It had a partially built bar at one end.
“I’m having a small stage put in at the far end,” Mike said, pointing it out. “I’ll be hiring the room out for weddings and parties.” Face went to the dance floor and bounced on his feet a little. The rest of the team looked at him strangely. “I know it needs re-sprung.” Mike said. “Maybe even replaced.”
Face nodded. “Good size though.”
Hannibal smiled to himself. Face was clearly taking a personal interest in the success of the place now they were going to have a percentage interest. At the far end of the room they went on through into the kitchen. The large, industrial kitchen, all brushed stainless steel was mostly installed but still untouched. A small corner was currently in use. Mike had a small step stool in front of the worktop, stepped up it and started making sandwiches for the team. Murdock put on a pot of coffee.
“Anything happened since we spoke last?” Hannibal asked.
“No, it’s been quiet the last few days,” Mike said. “I’ve got some building workers in from the next town over just now, working on the bedrooms. The Heinemann’s haven’t come sniffing around for a couple of days.”
They went back out to the lobby area with their food and Mike and Face were soon deep in a conversation about Mike’s plans for the hotel.
“BA,” Hannibal said. “We’ll set up a command post on the top floor in one of the front rooms. That will give us a good view of the approach road and down into the town.”
“Yeah.” BA said. “I got a tripod in the van for the binoculars.”
“Hey guys,” Face said. “What do you think the name ‘Valley View Hotel’?”
“Hmm, kind of generic.” Hannibal said. He turned back to BA. “We’ll set up four hour watches. I want to spot these guys arriving and be ready for them.”
“Is this the A-Team then?”
They all turned to see a boy of about fourteen had come down the stairs into the lobby, carrying a skateboard. He had large brown eyes and thick wavy dark brown hair and was wearing battered sneakers, jeans and a t-shirt.
“Yes,” Mike said, “This is them, Mr Smith, Mr Baracus, Mr Peck and Mr Murdock. This is my son, David.” David looked at the team with the kind of massively unimpressed expression that only a teenager could manage. Even BA’s unusual appearance didn’t seem to give him pause. They all said hello to the boy.
“Right, hi.” He said, and then turned to his father. “Can I go into town?”
“What for?” Mike asked.
“Nothing.” David said, shrugging, “Just to hang. Geez, Dad, does there have to be a big reason for everything?”
“Alright, but be back well before seven for dinner.”
“Right.” He turned towards the door, giving the A-Team another unenthusiastic look. They watched him put his board down outside and ride off down the drive. Mike was looking a little embarrassed.
“Sorry. He wasn’t brought up to be that rude, I promise you.”
“Teenagers,” said Hannibal, trying to sound like he knew what he was talking about. “Good looking kid though.”
“He would be if he’d comb his hair, stand up straight and smile now and again.” Mike said. Then he smiled a little himself. “Yeah, he is. Takes after his mother,” he admitted. His own hair was light brown and his eyes blue, in contrast to David’s dark looks.
“Okay, guys,” Hannibal said, seeing they’d all finished their sandwiches. “Let’s do a full recon of the place and set up the command post.”
It was just after six in the evening. Face and Murdock were manning the command post they’d set up. Face was scanning the town below with binoculars, then the houses on the hills around the town.
“Some nice looking houses.” Face said. “Must be worth plenty.”
“Hmm,” Murdock wasn’t paying much attention, was using his magnifying glass to examine Face’s tie.
“Will you knock that off,” Face said, pulling it away from him. “Check out these houses.” He sighed. “Sometimes I think I’d like to live in a small town like this. Peaceful. Friendly.”
“Not so friendly according to Mike,” Murdock said, straightening up. He took over the glasses from Face and scanned the area. “Anyway, you’re a city boy, Face, you’d hate it here after about a week. Besides…” he slipped into the English accent, “… It is my belief, Faceman, founded upon my experience that the lowest and vilest alleys of LA do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”
“More Holmes?” Face asked.
“Paraphrasing.” Murdock confirmed. “Uh-oh.” He went serious suddenly. “The law. And I doubt it’s my good friend Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard.” Face looked out of the window to see a Sheriff’s department car approaching up the drive.
“Wonder if it’s the Sheriff himself? The cousin?” Face said.
“We’ll find out in about five minutes.”
Murdock radioed Hannibal who told him to come to the lobby, leaving Face on watch. Murdock met Hannibal, BA and Mike there.
“Murdock you stay with Mike. We’ll stay out of sight unless you need us.”
“Roger, Colonel,” Murdock said. Hannibal and BA took positions, just in time as the Sheriff came to the door, which was open. Walking in front of him was David, carrying his skateboard and looking even surlier than before. The Sheriff was tall and had a dull, slow, somewhat bovine expression in his eyes.
“Harper.” The Sheriff said, “I brought your kid home. He was causing trouble down in town.” Mike looked shocked and then furious.
“I wasn’t causing trouble,” David protested. “Since when is just talking to people causing trouble?”
“He was stirring it with my cousin Jed’s kids. Looked like it was turning nasty.”
“They started it.” David pulled away from the Sheriff who had a hand on his shoulder.
“You gotta keep that kid under control.” The Sheriff said. “We don’t like trouble makers in this town.”
“I wasn’t…” David began.
“Go to your room, David.” Mike said tensely.
“Now!” Mike snapped. David shut up. He cast a resentful scowl at the Sheriff and left, going up the stairs. Once he was out of earshot Mike turned to the Sheriff, who was currently eyeing Murdock suspiciously. Murdock was eyeballing him back, with one of his best quietly unhinged looks.
“I’m sorry for the trouble, Sheriff Heinemann,” Mike said with a sort of frozen politeness.
“This ain’t the first time it’s happened. That kid needs some discipline. I guess he never got that with the upbringing he had.”
“He got plenty of discipline,” Mike said, hotly.
“Yeah? Well it don’t show.” He looked at Murdock again. “Who’s this?”
“A friend of mine,” Mike said.
“From the circus?” Heinemann asked. Murdock raised his eyebrows.
“No,” Mike snapped.
“Oh. You know maybe you and your kid should go back there. Seems like you don’t fit in around normal folk. Probably better if you’d stayed with your own kind.”
“David is normal!” Mike said angrily and Murdock decided it was time to intervene.
“Sheriff, you laying any charges against the boy?” He asked.
“Not this time.” The Sheriff said. Which Murdock figured meant he had nothing to charge him with.
“Then we’re pretty busy,” Murdock said. “Need to get back to work.”
“Yeah.” The Sheriff didn’t look like he was in any hurry to move. He was looking around the place with a slow stare. “Work don’t seem to be progressing very fast does it? Maybe you took on too much, Harper.”
“I’m managing.” Mike said. “I’ll get there.”
“Little by little, huh?” Heinemann laughed, but Mike and Murdock just glared at him. He pushed back his hat, which he hadn’t taken off when he came in. “You straighten that kid out.” He said, and then turned to walk out.
When they heard his car pulling away Hannibal and BA moved back into sight.
“That guy need to learn some manners,” BA growled dangerously.
“The circus, Mike?” Hannibal said.
Mike, who had been looking down at the floor, simmering with anger, looked up at Hannibal a little surprised.
“Yes, that’s where I lived until I moved here. Didn’t you do a background check on me? You said you had.”
“Yes, we did,” Hannibal said. Into his walkie-talkie he said, “Face, you want to come down here to the lobby?” He turned back to Mike. “Tell me more, Mr Harper.”
Mike frowned a little. “Nothing much to tell. I was adopted by circus people when I was a kid. Did various jobs, tumbling, clowning.”
“Why did you leave?” Murdock asked, intrigued by the idea of a man who ran away from the circus to open a hotel.
“Wasn’t really my dream,” Mike said, with a shrug. “I think it either has to be your dream, or you have to be born to it. And we wanted David to have a more settled life, not travelling all over the country. We wanted him to get a proper education.”
“You and your wife, you mean?” Hannibal said.
“Yes.” Mike looked down, sadly. “We’d been planning this for a few years. Raising the money, taking correspondence courses in hotel management. This was our dream. When she died I almost gave up on the whole thing.” There was silence for a few moments.
“What’s up, guys?” Face said, coming down the stairs into the lobby.
Mike looked up again. “I’d better go talk to Davie,” he said, and then smiled a little wryly. “David, I mean. He sulks if I call him Davie now.” He went off to his living quarters, nodding an acknowledgment to Face as he passed.
Face came over to the team. Hannibal put an arm around his shoulders.
“Lieutenant, do you know what an elephant looks like?”
“Huh?” Face said. Murdock grinned and BA smirked.
“An elephant, you know what one looks like?”
“Of course I know what an elephant looks like.” Face said, irritated and baffled.
“You’re sure? There’s not a possibility that you could, say, miss it if it you were in a room with one?”
“What the hell are you talking about Hannibal?”
“You know when I said ‘nice thorough job’ on the background check? I take it back.”